Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring shoe shopping preview

From top to bottom, espradrilles from Lanvin; pink patent-leather wedge heels from Miu Miu; Oxfords from Marc Jacobs; sandals with ankle straps from Chloe; more Oxfords from Alexander Wang; and ankle boots from Acne. All images from Net-a-Porter.

My favorite nude pumps, from a no-name shop in Kowloon, have been worn down to a disgraceful state. Marc the Metrosexual pointed out the other day, as I was leaving for work, that the sole seemed to be detaching itself from the leather upper. Last summer's sandals have molded. I do have another pair of light heels, but they're way too high and way too uncomfortable for daily use. (I know. Silly of me). My light-brown leather Cole Haan flats are badly scuffed and, shamefully, I didn't notice till I looked down on them during an interview. I thought, "I wore these out to a work function? When did I begin to get so slovenly?"

We just did the Big Book Purge. Now it's time for the Big Closet Purge.

So I'm looking for something in a neutral color with a reasonable heel. I know I'm turning into a little old lady, but I've long outgrown my need for towering, brightly-colored f*ck-me heels. (Sorry for the language, Mom.) At this point of my life, I need shoes I can walk in all day without causing blisters, corns, sore calves, sprained ankles, etc. Sensible beige shoes, apparently. Next thing you know, I'll be buying giant granny underwear that comes up to my waist.

Boys -- I presume you've stopped reading by this point. Except for Marc the Metrosexual, of course, a man who loves shoe-shopping as much as anyone. Girls -- you can vote on which overpriced designer shoe I should splash out on this season.

Have you ever bought shoes online? I've bought clothes through Net-a-Porter with mixed results. A Marc Jacobs dress fit perfectly, but that's because I've bought his stuff before and know my size. But a Fendi suit purchased for my brother's wedding was not quite tailored right. They have an exchange policy on ill-fitting shoes, but it sounds like a pain. Since these are all major brands (except Acne) I can probably find them in Hong Kong if I take a day to go shopping.

Catharsis through shoe shopping -- what a female stereotype straight out of "Sex and the City." Shoe coverage seems to be a girlie-blog standard. Hong Kong Fashion Geek has dozens of posts in her SHOErotica series. The Privilege blog devotes much time to more down-to-earth questions, like what shoes to wear with khaki?

I'm usually not the fashion shopper most women are, though I do occasionally indulge. Recently, Marc and I have been hit by sundry household expenses. The leaky gas oven / stove had to be replaced. Little things had to be done around the flat. And then we got notice that government rates / land tax had gone up 14% in our neighborhood.

We're fiscally conservative folk, so our instinct was to cut down on spending (barring our weekly brunching, of course). But after a few months of scrimping, I think the mind naturally swings the other way. Suddenly, you're lingering a little longer than usual at the shops in the mall, dreaming about Kindles and cute Lanvin sandals with rose-colored satin ribbons.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Editing job

The Hong Kong office of the International Herald Tribune seems to be hiring again. The people we're looking for:
* are experienced English-language editors
* have solid (preferably recent) professional newsroom experience
* can do practical work, like copy editing, writing headlines, etc, on deadline
* have enough knowledge of international events and politics to make solid news judgments
Experience in Asia and / or financial coverage would be great, but are not requirements. Same goes for technical skills like page design or web stuff.

I believe there are both temporary and permanent jobs.
If you're hired, you'll be working under the umbrella of The New York Times Co.

What's it like working at the IHT in HK?
* You have to be flexible in terms of working hours.
There are only a few people who come in at 9 or 10am. Everyone else starts after lunch and finishes after dinner. The office is most active from 1pm-midnight.
Shifts aren't too long -- a basic 8 hours for most folks -- but busy. Lunch (or dinner) is usually take-out at your desk.
Saturdays are always off. But almost all of us take turns working Sundays.

* The newsroom is mostly American expats, with the odd European, Canadian or overseas Asian thrown in. The youngest editors are probably in their 30s.
They are good-natured, well-traveled, cultured people, and mostly foodies. Several of us regularly bring in baked goods. Not surprisingly for people who work with words, everyone is an avid reader.
It is a serious office though -- some visitors have described it as "library-like" and "hushed." It's not exactly stress-free. If you're looking for a chatty office where people stand around gossiping, this is not the place for you.

Note: This slightly rambly, casual blog post is not an official company job ad.
Also, I have absolutely nothing to do with hiring. I just post this stuff to help out readers.
If you're interested, send a cover letter and cv to me (email is at the right-hand corner of this blog) and I'll pass it to my boss. That's all I can do. Please don't bother me about whether you got a job, because I won't know. I presume HR will call you if you do.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Should I buy a Kindle?

The Great Book Purge of 2011 has me wondering if I should break down and buy an e-reader. (That was preceded by The Great Book Purge of 2010. I sense a trend)

Earlier this month, I tried to find a home for a large number of used books.
It's possible, but it takes an awful lot of time and effort. Second-hand book stores are few and far in between, particularly where I live in Kowloon. Taking them to Hong Kong Island requires multiple cab rides and lugging heavy bags up flights of stairs. Plus, used bookshops (which all seem to be in the process of closing down, getting kicked out by landlords or otherwise suffering) don't seem particularly pleased unless you're offering easy-to-sell text books or how-to books.
I did find a home for some of my art catalogs -- I emailed a list to the non-profit Asia Art Archive, who told me which ones they wanted. But I still haven't found time to cab that bag over.

I brought some books to the office, but the "freebie" bookshelf there is overflowing with crap -- company catalogs, annual reports and other thinly veiled advertorial-type glossy things sent to us. Given how busy my colleagues are with the Japan disaster and Libya war, bookshelf-cleaning is the least of anyone's worries. So my books are sitting in a big bag on the floor for now.

What to do with all that corporate crap? I tried to find out if books that are put into the paper recycling box are actually recycled. I called the governmental Environmental Protection Department. And to sum up the jist of a very long conversation with them: They have no freaking clue.

So... the Kindle.

There are some physical books I will always buy and keep -- favorite books, books from my student years, classics, and collections from authors I love. Marc the Metrosexual and I are very proud of our little book collection. We even built it a new home with custom-made bookshelves last month. I think Marc almost cried with joy after the workers were done.

We had a technical problem the day of installation. Hugo the Cat got his bum stuck in one of the smaller shelves.

I'm not like Marc, who takes much effort to choose only the best volumes, and who reads slowly and judiciously.

I'm a speed reader, a book slut, really. I must have some form of the written word every time I'm on an MTR train, plane, or just sitting in the living room. I can't even get through breakfast without reading the paper. The last time we went on vacation, I packed seven books. And, for a while, I had some medical issues that required me to get "moderated bed rest", which is really, really boring unless I have a huge amount of reading material. (No TV or Wifi in the bedroom).

And I'm not ashamed to say that I love trashy pop-lit paperbacks to fill my time. I recently told Marc that when I'm down, nothing lifts my spirits more than a good, bloody Stephen King horror. (He told me I was a rather strange wife).

My problem is that I have stacks of books that I basically skim through and then want to discard. I'm also an avid fan of magazines and journals, which I collect into what Marc disparagingly calls my "paper mountain." Again, most of these are not volumes I wish to keep. (Thank god my whole office are New Yorker fans).

If I get a Kindle, it will probably be for this kind of casual, fast reading. At HK $1,295 ( US $166) from Amazon, including shipping to Hong Kong, it doesn't seem that expensive. It would be a greener alternative, particularly in a city with limited re-cycling / re-use facilities. It would save us much space. And, given the cost of imported books from America and Europe, it would probably save me money.

I don't, by the way, want to get a fancier product like an iPad, as I'm not looking for something that can run tons of apps, play videos, etc. I just want a simple book replacement with a black and white screen.

What do you guys think?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mac help! Why are computers out to get me?

I wish the tech crises would come one at a time.
Marc's mobile contract was up, so he went to the shop and they offered to let him trade in his old iPhone for a newer one, the iPhone 4, for very little cost.
When we plugged it into our MacBook Pro, we got a message saying he had to upgrade to iTunes 10.2.1.
We tried that. But then we got an error saying that he needed to upgrade to Mac OS X 10.5.
We were thinking of doing this earlier, but the guy at the computer shop said we couldn't because the MacBook Pro was too old and we needed one with an Intel processor. So we should buy a new computer. We declined, because we decided we don't need that extra cost right now.
Also, I wasn't sure if the shop guy was being totally honest. When I got home, I checked and saw that our MacBook Pro does run on an Intel processor, and is using Mac OS X 10.4.11.
So here are some questions for any helpful Mac techies out there --
* Does Marc need to buy a new laptop in order to use his new phone?
* Can't we just update the OS without buying a new laptop? If I were sure of this, I'd just run to the store to buy Snow Leopard of whatever.
* What about iPhone users who don't have Macs?
* If we finally get an iPad, will we have to change laptops / OS anyway?
* If Marc changes laptops, will it be easy to transfer his many photos and files?
* Why are the Computer Gods out to get me this week? Couldn't they have waited for another week? Should I have built one of those little orange pyramids to bless them?
Thanks for your help.

Monday, March 14, 2011

MS Windows Comes Back to Haunt Me

Like a zombie rising from the dead, my ex-blogging platform -- the tortoise-slow, user-unfriendly, comment-eating, spam-infested MS Live Windows Spaces Thingie -- has come back to haunt me.

I've been getting emails in my old Hotmail account for a while now, trying to warn me of something. But I never opened them, since for several years, alleged "Official MS Hotmail" messages had suspicious instructions for me to send my banking details to some stranger. So, yeah. I didn't trust them.

It was only today that I realized that the crappy Windows Microsoft Live Thingie was closing down for good. Well, good riddance. Except that it has all my old Joyceyland archives on it. And I only have two days to save them.

There is no way of exporting that content en masse to Blogger. (To WordPress, yes, but not Blogger). There is a way of downloading it all as a Zip file -- that took about an hour, but now I realize I can't open it on my Mac.

The reason I never transferred it all in the first place was because you have to cut and paste every single entry individually, and I simply never had the time. And I doubt I will before Wednesday. (These are the times that my greatest wish is for a personal assistant.)

Anyway... I decided just to concentrate on moving over my old IHT / NYT writing.

When I first opened a blogging platform called Joyceyland exactly five years ago -- in March 2006 -- the goal was to put all my professional writing in one place online, like a giant portfolio. Initially, the idea was NOT to write little personal essays and build up a community of online friends and commenters (though I'm very glad that that happened).

Transferring the IHT/ NYT links became problematic because, back then, I was using all the old IHT URLS, which are now NYT URLS. And, no, they do not automatically transfer.

In the end, I ended up jotting down the headlines of several dozens stories in a notebook -- a paper notebook, I mean -- and vowing to get to them later. I'll just have to look them all up on the NYT site for the new URLS. Stupid technology.

As for transferring normal blog entries -- June 2009 alone took me 45 minutes (though that was a particularly busy month -- lots of Tiananmen Square stuff).


Personal assistant -- where are you? I promise I'll be nicer than that lady in "The Devil Wears Prada." I swear.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Oh my God. Poor Japan.

There's a 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami scare. The images on CNN now are really alarming -- huge waves taking out entire parts of countryside -- and it looks like it hasn't even hit entirely yet.
It looks like it could spread across Asia. I pray it won't be like the Southeast Asian tsunami of 2004.
Tokyo is very well prepared for quakes, but I don't think any city could be ready for this.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Random Question on Book Recycling

Are books recyclable?
Marc and I have just done another one of our Great Book Purges, getting rid of about 40 volumes.
I'd like to recycle or re-use them, instead of having them end up in a landfill.
Most are good-quality, well-kept books. I'll probably bring them in batches to work, where my colleagues are both very literate and open-minded about second-hand goods. (Sorry, but Hong Kongers are not, in general.)
But there are some books that are destined for the bin: decade-old "Lonely Planet" guides, or glossy corporate things -- like reports, catalogs and thinly veiled advertorials -- that nobody wants to read.
If I set, say, hardcovers, next to the bins in the recycling area, will they be recycled like my old magazines? Or will they just be thrown out?

P.S. If anyone out there is in the market for a bunch of free books, let me know. They're a combination of literary fiction (Atwood, Kundera, Rushdie), pop fiction (Helen Fielding, Peter Mayle), non-fiction, travel, cookbooks and photo books.
The only caveat is that you come get them and take the majority of them.
If you're a school library, used book store or avid reader / English student, send an email to the address on the right-hand side.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sovereign Art Prize Reaches Further into Asia
"Witness From Baghdad" by Halim Al-Karim of Iraq. Image from the Sovereign Art Foundation.

Since 2003, the Sovereign Art Foundation has been holding annual exhibits and charity auctions here in Hong Kong (and, increasingly, in other cities around the world).
This is the first year that I've seen the finalists reach so deeply outside of our usual art markets -- China, Southeast Asia, etc.
The eerie work above is by Halim Al-Karim of Iraq, who reportedly spent three years hiding in a cave after opposing Saddam Hussein.
There were also a good number of works from Pakistan: A modern prayer mat from Imran Chana; an miniature illustration of a fetus in a womb-like walnut from Sara Khan; and Qasida and Nigar, a team of two women.
From Afghanistan is the darkly hilarious "Jihadi Gangster" by Amanullah Mojadidi, showing a presumed terrorist -- sans leg -- with a half-naked woman, some booze and a remote control. (Guys always hog the remote, don't they?)

Many of the works are relatively literal reflections of the artists' homelands; but others are not.
Ulan Djaparov of Kyrgyzstan has a clean, modern photo self-portrait that could be from anywhere.
The gala dinner and auction is this Saturday and, sadly, the one-week exhibit at Exchange Square is over.
I've been a wayward blogger in letting you know so late. I feel like I've been a few beats slow on everything recently.
But you can still click here to see all the entries, and maybe online voting will still be on for the people's choice award.
It will be interesting who takes the top prize, as determined by the judging panel, and which of these works will sell well.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Another Hong Kong First: The McWedding

Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Raising a Milkshake to the Bride and Groom

International Herald Tribune / The New York Times, March 1, 2011

HONG KONG — As classical Muzak blasted from a loudspeaker, Kelvin Kwong got down on one knee and declared his love for his fiancée, Ashley Tse, in front of a rowdy media scrum. Their engagement party on Valentine’s Day was the inaugural event of a new and aggressively promoted nuptial service at McDonald’s restaurants in Hong Kong, the first in the world to offer McWeddings.

About a week later, the first real wedding ceremony in a McDonald’s was held here involving a different couple, though the bride and groom, perhaps understandably, decided not to invite the press.

In 2006, Hong Kong changed a law to allow for weddings held outside of places of worship or City Hall. Entrepreneurs quickly offered ceremonies on boats, in shopping malls and even under water in the aquarium of the Ocean Park theme park. McDonald’s, which has been in Hong Kong since 1975, is the first fast-food chain to get in on the lucrative trade.

The local wedding industry is worth about 10.7 billion Hong Kong dollars, or US $1.37 billion, a year, according to ESD Life, an online media outlet. An ESD survey of 1,781 people found that the average couple spent about US $29,200, mostly to give face to families with lavish banquets, multiple outfit changes and even dowries, which are still paid in this otherwise modern city.

Given that average monthly household income is only about US $2,250, it is not uncommon for young couples — or, frequently, the groom’s family — to save for years or to go into debt to pull off a wedding.

By contrast, a McWedding starts at US $1,280, which includes food and drinks for 50 people. The package includes a budget version of the usual trappings: a “cake” made of stacked apple pies, gifts for the guests and invitation cards, each with a wedding photo of the couple. (Hong Kong wedding photos are taken in advance, with the couple in rented finery.)

McDonald’s employees dressed in black suits mimic the actions of hostesses at upscale hotels. They greet guests at the entrance, usher them to the signature book and deliver food, even if it is just a Big Mac and fries.

Before the engagement party started, Shirley Chang, managing director of Hong Kong McDonald’s 226 outlets, sat beneath a display of pink balloons, in a fuchsia Chinese-style top with traditional butterfly clasps and a decidedly nontraditional Golden Arches logo.

She explained that McWeddings were devised in line with local customs, particularly Chinese numerology beliefs that determine the best dates for weddings or other important events. The engaged couple was given a photo frame shaped like Ronald McDonald, marked with the “limited edition number” 138, an auspicious figure.

McWeddings were first announced on Oct. 10, 2010, because “10-10-10” is another lucky combination.

The lack of alcohol has not seemed to bother anyone, and Ms. Chang said there had been no requests for it so far. Instead, couples toast with something sugary, because of the implications of “sweetness” in Chinese belief. “That’s why we toast with sundaes,” she said. “You can have a lot of fun with soft drinks.”

According to Ms. Chang, 50 to 60 nuptials are under negotiation with Hong Kong McDonald’s party-planning managers.

“Everyone wants a tailor-made wedding, and everyone is working on picking the best dates based on the lunar calendar,” said Ms. Chang, who started working for McDonald’s in 1984 in her native Taiwan.

Gordon Mathews, an anthropologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, explained the appeal of a McWedding.

“The generation getting married today grew up doing their studying at McDonald’s,” Mr. Mathews said. “That was one of the chain’s prominent roles in the 1980s and 1990s — as a safe haven where students could study and stay off the streets.

“In the U.S. and other places, middle-class or upper-middle-class people look down on McDonald’s,” he said. “But Hong Kong is different. A McDonald’s wedding wouldn’t be seen as tacky here.”

The success that McDonald’s has had in blending into this social landscape may foretell how it will fare in the mainland Chinese market, which it entered in 1990 with an outlet in Shenzhen, near the Hong Kong border. There are 1,300 McDonald’s on the mainland, and the company hopes to expand to 2,000 outlets by 2013.

The company’s Hong Kong operations have been largely free of the anti-McDonald’s protests held elsewhere, partly because antiglobalization and anti-obesity movements are not as strong here as they are in the West.

“Internationally, McDonald’s has become an icon of fast-food culture and there may be a stigma,” said Dr. Francis C. C. Chow, president of the Hong Kong Association for the Study of Obesity. “But while we do have issues with fast-food culture, it’s not just McDonald’s.”

“It’s a matter of proportion,” Dr. Chow said. “Chinese foods like mooncakes or fatty pork are not healthy either, and should not be eaten every day.”

If anything, McDonald’s is seen as a relief from strict cultural rules. In “Golden Arches East,” a 1997 study of McDonald’s in Asia, James L. Watson, an anthropologist at Harvard, described the chain’s “egalitarian environment” as a selling point — nobody had to be embarrassed at not ordering the same expensive dishes as the next banquet table, and people of all classes could participate.

“I had a traditional Chinese wedding myself,” said Ms. Chang, the managing director. “It was so formal and it seemed like everyone was so happy except for me. I was dressed so beautifully, but I couldn’t even eat. Now, the focus is on the couple having fun.”

Back at the party for Mr. Kwong and Ms. Tse, the hostess was leading guests through a rowdy game involving balloons. They seemed genuinely happy and not self-conscious at all, and repeatedly raised their milkshakes to toast the couple, the McDonald’s management representatives and even the journalists covering the event.

But when asked if he would have his actual wedding at the same place, Mr. Kwong demurred.

“I heard that some people get married on the beach,” he said.